Posted on September 22, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Atlanta Braves

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The National League playoff picture is finally starting to come into focus, and the Atlanta Braves are now the first to punch their ticket for October. The Braves clinched the NL East division title Saturday afternoon with a 5-3 win over the second-place Phillies. The division title is Atlanta’s first since the 2013 season. Saturday’s win was Atlanta’s 87th of the season, a remarkable turnaround after the Braves finished last season 70-92. A division title marks the culmination of a long rebuilding process for Atlanta and one that isn’t over just yet.

“You sit back sometimes and wonder what this is going to feel like,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after the game. “When I was here as a third-base coach and we won the division or the Wild Card, it was great. You wonder as a manager how it would feel, and it’s even better than I had anticipated.”

The Braves began the 2018 season hopeful that they could take a significant step forward. However, they weren’t sure if they would have enough pieces in place. But with the way that youngsters like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. have started to blossom into stars, it has become possible. With veterans like Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis also having outstanding seasons, the Braves have had a great mix of young and old.

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“You could tell after the first week of workouts that we had the talent to do something special,” said Freeman. “Obviously, we still needed to put it together. But this is what happens. You win the division after three straight 90-loss seasons.”

The Braves were also a bit fortunate with regard to how the rest of the NL West shook out. The Phillies were in a similar position of reaching the end of their rebuild. They were competitive most of the season only to run out of steam in September. The Nationals, of course, were heavily favored at the start of the season. However, they couldn’t overcome injuries and inconsistent play. The Mets also looked like a contender early in the season but faded mid-summer.

Nevertheless, the Braves deserve credit for taking advantage of a wide-open division. Atlanta didn’t make a lot of marquee moves during the offseason, nor were they involved in any major trades during the summer. New GM Alex Anthopoulos made a few minor additions, but for the most part, trusted the players already in the organization.

“I thought we have a really talented team with high draft picks,” Anthopoulos said of the team. “We have the potential to be really good and have a chance to get better. We certainly exceeded all those things. (Snitker), the coaches, the players — they’re the ones who deserve all the credit for the year we put together.”

The Braves can now turn their attention to what could be a wide-open postseason in the National League. Atlanta has one of the highest-scoring lineups in the N.L. with a great mix of power and speed. The Atlanta bullpen has been average at best, but the Braves have plenty of depth in their starting rotation.

A lack of postseason experience could be a possible hindrance for Atlanta. However, if young starters like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb can pitch at the top of their game, the Braves could be interesting to watch in the postseason. Based on the season they’ve had and the play of some of their young stars, making a deep October run isn’t out of the question.

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